Let us begin with the most obvious contributor to poaching: the poachers.
It is easy to think of poachers as heartless, evil people who prey on the helplessness of the animals in order to make money. After all, we’ve seen pictures of the mangled bodies of animals and we hear stories of their apathy towards the living conditions of the animals that they hold captive. I suppose some of these poachers could be the way that they have been portrayed but this would be a gravely myopic view. A person’s temperament or personality trait alone rarely predicts his or her behaviour. More than likely, it is the interaction of the situation that a person is put in coupled with his or her personality trait dispositions that lead to his or her behaviour.
What I am driving at here is this: perhaps this person, let us name him Samuel, has an attitude of apathy towards animals. It isn’t that Samuel dislikes animals at all – maybe he even has a pet at home. It could be that he has just been brought up in a society where animals are perceived as no more than objects for humans to make use of and that it is entirely normal that people should live off animals, just like farmers. This is what conservation psychologists call a utilitarian attitude towards animals. In other words, animals are seen as objects to be made use of. There is nothing evil about this attitude and there is no evil intent in it. Just as we use a bottle to store water, these people use animals to make money. We can also say that Samuel has a dominionistic value-type towards animals. This is the traditional dominant worldview that most people have with regards to animals. We have been brought up with the idea that we are kings over animals and that animas are subject to our whims and fancies because we have the ability to entrap them and make them work for us. Now that we have gotten Samuel’s attitude covered, let us move on to the situation that he is put in.
Let us imagine that in situation A, Samuel has an ailing mother whose medical treatment requires a large sum of money. Now, he is obligated to earn money in order to allow his mother to undergo treatment. He faces the decision of going out to find a proper, legal job that pays decently but not nearly enough to cover his mother’s medical treatment costs, or to take up this poaching job recommended to him by his cousin that promises a good payoff. Presumably, in this situation, Samuel’s priority would be to earn enough money to pay for his mother’s treatment as soon as he can. Perhaps he would reason that although it was risky to poach, that a few poaching jobs would pay off his mother’s treatment costs and then he could quit that job and find a legal job. In situation B, Samuel’s mother is perfectly healthy and there are no pressing bills to be paid. His priorities would now be different. Here, Samuel also has the option of the two jobs. Perhaps now he would weigh the costs and benefits of the two available jobs and decide that although the proper, legal job pays less, the risks, such as being injured gravely by an animal, of poaching are higher and since there is no urgent need for a large sum of money, he would choose the more stable legal job. Thus we can see that attitude alone cannot tell us whether Samuel would pick poaching or the legal job. The above is a simplified version of what would probably happen in real life because in real life, countless of direct and indirect factors affect our final behaviour.
Of course, we could argue that even without pressing bills to pay, Samuel could still decide to poach because everyone is interested in earning as much money as they can. This is true. As long as Samuel can justify poaching as the best job for him, he would pick poaching. More often than not, these poachers are just in the job because it pays more than most other industries. According to onegreenplanet.org, poachers can earn $40 per week for catching, on average, 2-3 pangolins. It also does not help that increasing deforestation has exposed many wildlife, making them even more vulnerable to poachers. On top of the numerous wildlife displayed and sold legally at markets in Jakarta and elsewhere, many vendors keep a secret list of species for customers willing to pay $500 for a Sumatran tiger or $2,000 for a Javan gibbon. To put this into perspective, the average wage of an Indonesian in 2011 was $7,950, with the minimal annual salary for the biggest towns at $1,560. A poacher could easily make what the average person would make a year, in a day. In the rural countrysides, there is an even greater disparity between what a poacher would make and what the average person in his village would make. That is a very large incentive with few punishments. Logically speaking, poaching is a really good business, especially since the demand for it is high.
Let us go back to the need theory talked about in the “Motivation” section. According to the need theory, our needs are based on the interaction of push- (basic and internal) and pull- (external) motivation. There are certain thresholds upon which needs work. There are needs and then there are drives. According to Hull’s drive theory, need itself is not enough to engage in behaviour – specific reactions such as biological, emotional and physiological and required. Drives energise, are specific and reduce tension brought about by a deficit of some sort. Drives can also chronically (enduring) or temporarily activate behaviours. In other words, needs represent an internal deficit and drives are the “push factors” in a behaviour that energises behaviour. The more intense is the drive, the more intense the behaviour. In the case of the poachers, the internal deficit may be that of physical need for food and the drive is hunger. Hence, the resulting behaviour is that of working to get money to buy food.
Personality also moderates one’s hedonism. Those who have a more impulsive personality would be more likely to engage in activities that would produce immediate gratification. On the other hand, those who have more self-control would have the ability to count hedonic value further into the future. For people who require immediate gratification, poaching may be a good way as compared to “proper” work, which might take a much longer time to reap the same monetary benefits that poaching brings.